ST. PETERSBURG — Paul Congemi skipped the first mayoral forum because, he said, he didn't "go to things at 9 o'clock in the morning like that."
For the second, a 7 p.m. event, he left after his opening statement.
"On behalf of the homeless and the hungry in the city, I'm going to step down from this panel tonight," Congemi, 52, bizarrely announced to a crowd of 300 at Studio@620 in downtown St. Petersburg.
As Congemi, dressed in a powder blue turtleneck and khaki pants, made his way to leave, the event moderator interrupted: "You might want to introduce yourself."
"I'm Paul Congemi."
Congemi, a high school graduate with no political experience, is running a different type of campaign for the city's highest office.
He says he won't accept campaign contributions and will donate his first year's salary to homeless charities. And he says he wants to start a charity hospital in St. Petersburg.
Well, he doesn't have all the answers yet.
Congemi worked for his father's trucking and building business before the businesses were sold in 1993.
He says he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1995, and has been in full remission for the past two and a half years.
Congemi was the first candidate to file for mayor, announcing his campaign in July 2007. "I've seen injustices in so many ways," he said, explaining his motivation for running. "People are not being treated fairly."
His campaign rhetoric is almost solely dominated by two themes: homelessness and the violence happening in some neighborhoods of Midtown.
Congemi says he will donate $125,000 of his roughly $162,000 mayoral salary to homeless outreach programs in the first year, and will spend two days a week working at area homeless shelters.
On crime, he says he believes the top ranks of the Police Department are corrupt. Asked how, he fails to touch on specifics, but talks in general about how crime is being allowed to occur unchecked in some Midtown neighborhoods.
"I have a special message for the good people who live in the poorest neighborhoods on the south side of St. Petersburg," Congemi said. "The police will never help you, they never have and they never will."
Congemi lives with his mother in a condominium building near 49th Street and Fifth Avenue N.
In 2006, he filed for Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy and was ordered by a judge to complete a personal finance course.
Congemi, according to court filings, had racked up almost $18,000 in credit card charges. In an interview with the Times, Congemi would not say what the charges were for.
As he has promised, Congemi has not raised any money for his campaign. He said he plans to file a hardship waiver in order to qualify for the Sept. 1 primary ballot.
The lack of campaign funds leads to questions about whether he'll be able to raise money — as he vows — for homeless projects once in office.
It's also difficult to see where Congemi's support may reside. He has avoided opportunities to meet voters and touts no endorsements or support.
The issue he is most out in front on — helping the homeless — isn't as eye-catching as crime or baseball or economic development.
"I realize I'm an underdog, but my message is very powerful," Congemi said. "I am appealing to everyone in this city who cares about injustice, poverty and hopelessness."